Faith and existentialism

I used to have a basic dilemma regarding existentialism and faith. I define faith as those beliefs which one cannot derive from facts or observations. The basic existentialist crisis for me was that I found that there were no beliefs I could logically hold true. Every belief had to rely on some other beliefs, and eventually I ran out of firm truths. Every logical system needs axioms as a foundation. Even perception is suspect.

I decided that my only choice was to assume that the most natural explanation that fit my observations had to be acceptable as truth. That way, there wasn’t that pesky problem of absolute truth, but merely one of consistency with observation.

Unfortunately, there were still questions I couldn’t answer. For one, the question of relative worth. Is protecting the Earth more important than protecting my self? What about my way of life? And my code of ethics? Which falls first? These cannot be answered in an existentialist framework, but I had a need to find a belief system that did not conflict with reality. (Funny, doesn’t seem to be a problem for most people.)

I am a Unitarian Universalist of the humanist persuasion. That is, my most deeply held principles include faith in humanity, belief in the power of the democratic process, and respect for belief systems that differ from my own. These are not derived from observation (certainly), nor from philosophical logic (always a tricky one). They come from my upbringing and my nature. That was hard to admit to myself — I pride myself on being thoroughly logical in my understanding of the world.

Ultimately, I had to accept my faith — that which I could not explain or derive, but was simply natural to my being. I found a resolution in the view of religion as a way of living one’s life. Even though I know in my head that there’s no particular reason that humans should be able to do anything in particular, that there isn’t necessarily anything special about us, that’s the way I choose to guide my actions. I’ve decided that these beliefs are the ones that will make my life best, and will have the best consequences for the world.

So I can now see the world in two parts: a logical framework by which I determine what is true, and a religious framework by which I determine what is right. And as much as it is in my power, I don’t let the latter affect the former. Truth is ugly sometimes, and the uglier the truth, the more important it is that we don’t gloss over it. That’s often where a clear mind is needed most.


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